WHO'S NO. 1? TAKE THREE GUESSES
Normally this time of year is used to weigh the merits of the
candidates for the player of the year awards. However, Hale
Irwin, Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods so thoroughly dominated
their respective tours that any discussion is superfluous. A
debate can be conducted, though, over which of the three players
of the year is the most dominant golfer.
Based solely on their performance in the majors this year,
Woods, who won the Masters by a record 12 strokes, and Irwin,
who won the PGA Seniors, would have an edge on the majorless
Sorenstam. Also, Woods's overall impact on the game, and Irwin's
nine victories, are impossible to ignore. Still, the argument
for Sorenstam is a compelling one.
For starters, Sorenstam marked her turf two weeks ago at the
LPGA Tour Championship in Las Vegas, where she won in a playoff
over Lorie Kane and Pat Hurst. Irwin and Woods failed to make
similar statements at their Tour Championships. Despite a
second-place finish at Myrtle Beach, Irwin ended up ceding the
spotlight to winner Gil Morgan (who finished ahead of Irwin in
four of the Senior tour's five biggest tournaments). Woods
failed to put an exclamation point on a year that went mostly
downhill after his Western Open victory in July, finishing 12th
in the season finale in Houston. "You have to beat the best to
be considered the best," Sorenstam correctly pointed out in Las
Vegas, "and the Tour Championship is the place to do it."
That's as much of a boast as you will hear from Sorenstam, whose
sustained excellence over the past three seasons (12 victories,
including back-to-back U.S. Open titles in '95 and '96, and 42
top 10 finishes) is the best reason to call her today's most
dominant player. This year she came within .04 of a stroke of
repeating a feat she pulled off in 1995, winning the LPGA's
triple crown: player of the year, money title and lowest scoring
average. (Karrie Webb, at 70.00, had the lowest.) "In '95
everything just kind of happened, and I went along with it,"
says Sorenstam. "This year I felt like I had mastered the game
so much more."
Sorenstam, at 27, figures to be at the center of plenty more
"who's best" debates in the future. "I'm not thinking about that
yet," she says. "I just want to enjoy [the Las Vegas win]. What
can I say? I guess it's been my year."
She was talking about the LPGA tour but could have just as
easily meant all of golf.
ARIZONA COACH FINDS JOB DOUBLY REWARDING
LSU track coach Pat Henry is the only person to have led men's
and women's teams in the same sport from the same school to
Division I titles in the same year. Next spring, however,
Arizona golf coach Rick LaRose could match his feat. LaRose's
men's team is currently ranked first in the country. His women's
team is second, despite the fact that since late September it
has been without 1996 and '97 college player of the year Marisa
Baena, who has been sidelined by a shoulder injury. Both teams
have already won two tournaments.
The 51-year-old LaRose took over the men's program in 1978 and
led the Wildcats to the NCAA title in '92. He became the women's
coach just before Christmas in 1994, when Kim Haddow was hired
away by Florida. With the program in disarray (no recruits had
committed during the early signing period, and the team was
ranked 31st), Arizona's athletic director, Jim Livengood, called
LaRose into his office to ask for guidance. "The girls deserved
somebody who cared," LaRose says. "So I offered to take over."
LaRose's impact was immediate. Believing that the Lady Wildcats
lacked focus and intensity, LaRose had them practice with the
men's team. Despite the demands of two jobs, LaRose and his two
assistants, Tom Brill and Amy Solfisburg, also found time that
spring to land two highly regarded recruits: Baena, who is from
Colombia, and Krissie Register of Roswell, Ga.
The two players quickly turned the team around. At the '95
NCAAs, the Lady Wildcats finished 12th. The following year,
despite the distraction created by team member Brenna Cepelak's
well-documented affair with Nick Faldo, Arizona won the NCAA
team championship and Baena won the individual title. Last year
they were third. In the meantime, the men's team has finished
14th, 10th and fifth in the last three NCAAs.
"The players are my kids," says LaRose, who is divorced and has
no children. "I'll do anything for them, and they'll do anything
for me. That's the secret of our success."
NICK WHO MAKES A NAME DOWN UNDER
Among overnight sensations, few have shown up at the top of a
second-day leader board with a lower Q rating than Nick O'Hern.
After the 26-year-old Aussie took a tournament-leading 11-under
133 into the clubhouse at last week's Australian Open at the
Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, his idol and countryman,
Greg Norman, was moved to say, "I saw him up on the leader board
and questioned myself, Do I know this guy?"
No one did. Since joining the Australian tour full time last
year, O'Hern had made only two cuts and slightly more than
$3,000. In Melbourne he was on such a tight budget that he
carried his own bag during the first round. Only after shooting
67 that day did he get a caddie: his wife, Alana, who flew in
from Perth and arrived just in time to lug his bag during his
O'Hern's lead was short-lived. He shot 74 last Saturday but
bounced back with a 72 on Sunday to finish fifth and take home
$42,000, increasing his career earnings by nearly 1,400%. Said
Norman, who lost the tournament to Lee Westwood of England on
the fourth hole of a playoff: "The young talent in Australia is
very impressive right now." But no longer anonymous.
HARRY TAYLOR'S JUST WILD ABOUT Q SCHOOL
Most of the 168 players who advanced to the final stage of the
PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament arrived in Haines City, Fla.,
this week with the frazzled look that might be expected from
those preparing for the game's ultimate white-knuckle
experience. Not Harry Taylor. He came to the Grenelefe Resort
relaxed and eager for Wednesday's start of the 108-hole final,
after which Tour cards will be awarded to the top 35 finishers.
"The Q school is my tournament," says the 43-year-old Taylor.
"It's the one event I play in every year and the only one where
I've had any success."
Taylor has earned a spot in 17 Q school finals, which ties the
record set by Mac O'Grady. He has earned his card seven times
(most recently in 1994), which is also a record, but he has
never finished higher than 140th on the money list and therefore
has always lost his playing privileges. Still, Taylor adamantly
maintains that he's "not some no-name loser who keeps going to
the Q school."
He certainly has the name part right. Midway through Taylor's
rookie year on Tour, in 1980, Gary Adams, who was then a
fledgling equipment maker, introduced himself at the Western
Open. "I just started a company named Taylor Made," Adams said.
"With your last name, we should get together."
At the time, Taylor Made manufactured only one club, and it was
a novelty item--a driver made of metal. Taylor, who had won only
$1,482 that year, realized that he would probably never earn
enough on Tour to support his family, so that fall he went to
work for Adams. By 1984 he had helped make the metal wood the
Tour's most popular driver. In 1990 Taylor helped Adams launch
Founders Club, and for the last three years Taylor has served as
the director of club design and Tour promotions for Mizumo.
But he never lost the urge to play. He has entered every Q
school since 1983. "Maybe the Senior tour will be my calling,"
says Taylor. "The guys I played on Tour with will have made
their millions, and they'll want to stay home. There's still
THE SHAG BAG
Joyce Wethered, age 96, the four-time British Amateur champion
who in 1950 was voted the top woman golfer of the half century
by the Associated Press, died on Nov. 18 in Devon, England.
After playing an exhibition with her in 1930, Bobby Jones said,
"I am doubtful if there has ever been a better player, man or
woman." Said three-time British Open champion Henry Cotton, "I
don't think a golf ball has been hit, except perhaps by Harry
Vardon, with such a straight flight."...
Gary Nicklaus and Jeev Milkha Singh were among the 43 players
who earned European tour cards last week. Nicklaus, the
28-year-old son of Jack Nicklaus, had failed earlier this fall
to reach the finals of the U.S. Q school, while Singh (no
relation to Vijay), 25, will be the first Indian to play the
If the newly created 64-man $4 million World Match Play
tournament were held today, only 10 Europeans would qualify,
compared with 36 Americans. "We have a problem with the [way the
World Ranking formula rates European tour events]. It's a system
that we have to change," says Colin Montgomerie....
After he was struck in the neck by a playing partner's backswing
at a Kuala Lumpur course last week, Anthony Phua, a 35-year-old
lawyer and novice golfer, got to his feet and apologized for
interfering. Moments later, according to the Malay Mail, he
collapsed and died.
Because of the four-year, $800 million television contract
signed by the PGA Tour and the networks earlier this year,
tournament purses could double in 1999, when the new deal kicks
in. However, at least 18 tournaments have announced increases in
prize money for 1998, and most of the others will soon follow
suit. Here's how the five tournaments that have increased their
purses the most--the Bob Hope Classic, the GTE Byron Nelson
Classic, the Phoenix Open, the Nissan Open and the Buick
Invitational--ranked on Tour this year and how they stack up in
EVENT '97 PURSE/RANK '98 PURSE/RANK '98 WINNER'S SHARE
HOPE $1.5 million/T-19 $2.3 million/8 $414,000
PHOENIX $1.5 million/T-19 $2.2 million/T-9 $396,000
BUICK $1.5 million/T-19 $2.1 million/T-12 $378,000
NISSAN $1.4 million/35 $2.1 million/T-12 $378,000
NELSON $1.8 million/T-12 $2.5 million/T-6 $450,000
What do these players have in common?
They have won tournaments on three continents this year.
National Open titles--Canadian (2), Zimbabwe (2), British, Swiss
and New Zealand--won by Nick Price, who took his second Zimbabwe
crown last week.
Golf Plus will next appear in the Jan. 19, 1998, issue.